I’ve always pictured extreme air pollution as something that only happens in China, where coal power plants, manufacturing, and insane car traffic create suffocating smog. Not until I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma in 2013 did I consider the role of air pollution and air quality in my personal health. Inhalers help me manage my asthma, but I still occasionally struggle with shortness of breath.
When I learned that my representative to Congress, Keith Ellison, would be hosting a forum on air pollution and asthma, I knew I wanted to attend to learn more about how I can personally campaign for cleaner air. The forum, held last Tuesday, February 17th, at Shiloh Temple in North Minneapolis, was well attended by people from all over the city. Four of us YEA! MN-ers from South High also participated in a meeting with Congressman Ellison beforehand. He was interested in our environmental initiatives and it was encouraging to know that he supports our efforts. We talked about the HERC incinerator and his plans to push against renewing its contract in 2018. Last year we collected several hundred student signatures of petitions against expanding HERC, and it was cool to understand Ellison’s reasoning against HERC.
The forum itself was fascinating. Panelists included an organizer for the Sierra Club, a commissioner at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, a representative of the Minneapolis Health Department, the president of the Minnesota Black Nurses Association, and the director of a nonprofit focusing on clean air. They all had different perspectives on the same public health threat. It was nice to hear about the ways the City of Minneapolis works to reduce childhood asthma cases by reducing indoor air pollution, as well as to learn that Minneapolis has installed filters on school bus tailpipes to reduce pollution. We also learned about the US Environmental Protection Agency’s current bill to lower the acceptable level of ground-level ozone to a safer standard.
I liked the format of the forum. There was a time to learn about the current asthma and air quality initiatives being run by both the government and non-profits, and then time to hear the questions and concerns of audience members. It was an informative and entertaining evening, and I feel that I can better campaign for more stringent air quality standards and work to reduce the incidences of childhood asthma. I am planning on studying environmental health in college, and this was a great introduction to one current environmental health concern in my city.